The Fountaineers justifiably refer to themselves as an international outfit. While they’re based in Glasgow, Scotland, only half of the band was actually born there. Banjo player Robert Hart is from North Carolina and assures us that his family and friends are big fans, despite not yet having travelled as a band to the US. Mandolin player Callum Morton-Teng participated in the bluegrass program at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), and while guitarist and lead singer Michael Wright is Scottish, and fiddle player Jeri Foreman is Australian, they’ve travelled extensively throughout the US, which has enabled them to bring their American friends and followers into the fold.
“I am often asked when the band will tour in Australia,” Foreman says. “But it is so far away from Scotland that the best answer I can offer is, ‘As soon as somebody can afford the flights!'”
Although the majority of the band are expatriates, they are, in fact, the product of Glasgow’s vibrant music scene. “After we met at a bluegrass/old time session in Glasgow, we wanted to play more together,” Foreman explains. “However we always struggled to find the time, with two full time musicians and two graduate students in the mix. However, with the onset of the pandemic, our calendars opened up dramatically. Lockdown was not short-lived in Glasgow, and for a very long time we were not allowed to visit anyone else’s homes, so we started organizing jams in public parks throughout Glasgow. Eventually, we realized that it was the same four of us turning up to all of the outdoor jams, so we decided to become a band. One of our favorite spots to play socially distanced was the Stewart Memorial fountain, which had been drained to discourage large gatherings. In fact, the empty Victorian fountain had surprisingly good acoustics! One afternoon at this spot, a random local — a ‘Glaswegian’ — took a keen interest in our music and dubbed us ‘The Fountaineers,’ thus giving us our band name.”
Foreman cites the influences they hold in common — Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Tony Rice, Béla Fleck, David Grisman, Blue Highway, Lonesome River Band and the Punch Brothers — as their inspiration, but also says their sound finds them returning to the roots and venturing into other realms as well.
“We’re still exploring the various aspects of bluegrass as a band,” she insists. “While newgrass is something that we initially bonded over, we incorporate many first generation tunes and songs in every set we perform. As a bluegrass band outside of the USA, we see part of our job as introducing people to bluegrass, and that means being able to show and describe the different directions that bluegrass has taken over time.”
As a result, their music continues to evolve. “Originals are starting to make their way into our repertoire,” Foreman explains. “So far, it’s just a few instrumentals that we’ve rehearsed, but we feel that to do bluegrass justice, we need to be well versed in the repertoire. In that sense, we are a cover band, but we find the bluegrass and old-time canon so extensive that we haven’t felt the need to incorporate covers from other genres.”
She says that so far, the band has performed in various parts of Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland. “We are definitely hoping to get further afield,” she notes. “But for us, travel only opened up less than six months ago and we were not a band before lockdown.”
That said, they have had opportunity to play at several high profile events. They made their festival debut at the Battlefield Bluegrass Festival in 2021, one of the first gatherings to take place after England relaxed its COVID restrictions, and now they’re looking forward to returning again this summer. In addition, last year, they were one of the international showcase artists at IBMA.
“It was very exciting,” Foreman says. “We recorded a special performance for broadcast at that event.” She notes that so far this year, they’ve also appeared at Bluegrass Omagh in Northern Ireland, Arisaig Americana in the Scottish highlands, and England’s Crossover Festival. They’re also preparing to play at the La Roche festival in France, the Kirkstyle Stomp in Scotland, and the Didmarton Bluegrass Festival in the UK.
The group has performed with several visiting artists. “Glasgow is such an amazing city for music that in the last couple of months, we’ve had the opportunity to open for Seth Mulder and Midnight Run and Cahalen Morrison when they were touring through here,” Foreman remarks. “We also had Sierra Ferrell and her band stop by our weekly residency and sing with us, which was fabulous! Glaswegian audiences are always energetic, and we feel like we learn so much when we get to see how top tier artists respond to that enthusiasm. We try to take every opportunity to jam with everyone, so we’ve played with most of our favorite UK-based artists after shows and at festivals as well.”
Plans also call for the imminent release of the Fountaineers’ first EP.
“It’s very exciting,” Foreman declares, her enthusiasm all too obvious. “We are hoping that the whole experience will help us tackle a full-length album early next year, but for now, we are really excited to have a product to take to our live shows and something to grow our presence on streaming services. Making music is challenging right now for so many reasons, and we found ourselves needing a couple of extra players for the recording session. However, Glasgow’s music scene has so much depth that we were able find quality players to fill in, which was great. Our first single was a live video recording we did in 2020, and there were a few other tracks that we made for Scottish radio, but never uploaded to streaming services.”
Not surprisingly, Foreman has a ready explanation as to why bluegrass enjoys such widespread international popularity.
“The joke is that bluegrass is mostly depressing content managing to sound buoyantly optimistic, which does appeal to the human condition,” she reckons. “Folks like to draw transatlantic connections, and definitely in Scotland, the acoustic instrumentation and the fiddle tune form are a point of familiarity for people, who celebrate folk culture as naturally as breathing. People here relate to many types of music and deeply respect the virtuosity that good bluegrass musicians display. For me personally, I adore the sound of a string band and the bluegrass groove – and I’m probably not alone in that feeling!”
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